On This Day: France seal 2004 Grand Slam success

France’s final day victory pipped England to the Championship and sealed a second Grand Slam in three years.

France’s final day victory pipped England to the Championship and sealed a second Grand Slam in three years.

Five successful kicks and a try from Dimitri Yachvili helped take down holders and Rugby World Cup champions England in 2004.   Setting the scene

England came into the Championship firm favourites, having won the Rugby World Cup in Australia just three months prior — beating France in the semi-final — and claiming the Grand Slam a year earlier.   France finished third in 2003 after defeats to England and Ireland, but their calibre was known given their Grand Slam success in 2002.   The French entered the final match in red-hot form, having won all four rounds including victories over Italy and Scotland without conceding a point.   A defeat to Scotland meant England’s chances of back-to-back Grand Slams were gone, but an eight-point win at the Stade de France would see them lift the Championship.

How the action unfolded

Yachvili opened the scoring 19 minutes in with a penalty, with England’s Olly Barkley having seen his early kick fall short.   France pressed the advantage four minutes later when Yachvili’s cross-field kick found Imanol Harinordoquy lurking in the corner for an easy try.   Two more Yachvili penalties put England 14-0 down but Barkley reduced the deficit just before half time with a penalty.   There was still time before the break for scrum-half Yachvili to collect a loose ball from a French ruck before chipping forward from the narrow blindside and getting to the ball first for another try.   His conversion meant France took a 21-3 lead at the end of the first half and England’s hopes of consecutive Championships appeared to be fading.   Barkley and Yachvili kicked penalties as France’s lead remained 18 points, but the visitors fought back when Mike Catt looped a lovely ball over to Ben Cohen, who had a free run to the line.   With eight minutes remaining, Barkley slotted a kick when France were penalised for pushing in the line-out, and he set up Josh Lewsey for a try on 75 minutes.

Lewesy weaved in and out of the French defence to touch down and Barkley converted to leave England trailing by just three points, but they could not break through again.   What they said

France head coach Bernard Laporte said: “I am very happy because we wanted to win against the best team in the world.   “We played well in the first half although in the second period we were not so good. We were very good in defence, in the scrum and in the line-out but England are still the best team in the world.   “In the semi-final, England were better than France and we congratulated them but today, we were the best.

England head coach Clive Woodward said: “We thought we had the side to win and the last ten minutes it just seemed to get away from us.   “We’ll take a lot out of the second half but this sport’s about winning, and we’ve lost. I think France deserved to win.   “This Championship was always going to be hard after the Rugby World Cup but I’ve very proud of the way we played out there. We’ll build from this and look forward to the summer. We have to move on.”    What happened next

France were runners-up in 2005 but regained their Championship crown in 2006 and 2007.

Another Grand Slam in 2010 capped a run of five Championship victories in nine years for Les Bleus.   Clive Woodward resigned as England head coach later in 2004 ahead of taking charge of the British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand later the following year.   Under new coach Andy Robinson, England beat Canada and South Africa but were defeated by Australia in the 2004 Autumn Internationals.